Author: Imogen Aldridge

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst

“I was taught to confront things you can’t avoid. Death is one of those things…looking at death throws us back into life with more vigour and energy. The fact that flowers don’t last forever makes them beautiful.” - Damien Hirst

From skulls to pumpkins to scenes shrouded in mystery, the macabre and the bizarre are themes that have been explored by artists for centuries. From the Victorian era’s obsession with death and Memento Mori, to the wider cultural obsession with our own morality, contemporary artists embrace these darker, thought-provoking themes in their art. As Halloween is nearly upon us, we take a look at artists tackling these spooky subjects.

Now more of a light-hearted opportunity for trick or treating and pumpkin carving, the festival of All Hallows Eve has traditionally been a day dedicated to remembering the dead and past Saints. As the years have passed, this annual celebration has developed an unmistakable collection of iconography that is echoed in the work of the following artists. From Lee Ellis’ sinister skulls, to Magnus Gjoen’s Gothic imagery to Yayoi Kusama’s playful pumpkins, each of these artists utilise key elements of Halloween in their art. We love the dark and mysterious atmosphere of this time of year, so why not embrace this in our art too?

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Large Pumpkin Soft Sculpture Yellow, 2016 by Yayoi Kusama - £800

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Memento Mori is a historical motif used by artists for centuries. This trope has roots as early as the philosophy of classical antiquity, medieaval funerary art and Christian imagery. Often taking the form of a skull or bones, but also being represented as coffins, hourglasses and extinguished candles, these motifs are representative of the fragility of human life. Memento Mori iconography was often found within a portrait or still life painting, as a constant reminder of the inevitability of death, with the phrase translating to ‘remember that you [have to] die’ from Latin. This became such a popular motif that an offshoot of still life called ‘Vanitas Painting’ emerged, which were paintings consisting of symbolic objects that remind the viewer of their own mortality, and the unimportance of other material goods in comparison. The likes of Magnus Gjoen, Damien Hirst and Lee Ellis use this historical skull imagery in their artwork as representation of the foreboding nature of death.

Whilst Kusama’s pumpkins are representative of the fun to be had over the Halloween period, the other artists in this viewing room use humour and ridicule to confront the power of death - a subject that continues to occur both in contemporary art and in the tradition of All Hallows Eve. Discover artworks that play with mystery, perception and intrigue in our viewing room.

 

Magnus Gjoen - View Collection

Magnus Gjoen’s artwork treads a delicate line between the subjects of life and death, old and new, and the glamorous and macabre. Gjoen combines Renaissance iconography with skull imagery, distorted figures and floral motifs to create a completely unique aesthetic. The gothic themes in Gjoen’s artworks are dark and evocative, exploring the relationship between power and fragility. Vanitas art is an intriguing genre, which dates back to the Dutch Master painters of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Time and I Against Any Two by Magnus Gjoen - £200

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Objects such as skulls, rotting fruit and melting candles are used in Gjoen’s art to represent the fragility and brevity of life. The artist sources imagery from museum archives and other fragments from the past to create an unmistakable dissonance within his work, using these references to explore the relationship between power and fragility.

 

Lee Ellis - View Collection

Lee Ellis is a Bristol-based contemporary artist that embraces the macabre, using his talents to depict the angst and inner turmoil of his subjects. Ellis’ artworks draw an intense emotional reaction from the viewers of his artworks, with his strong linework and aggressive brush strokes emphasising the pain of his skulls and figures.

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Mister Bone-Jangles by Lee Ellis - £55

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

His experimental process embraces a variety of mediums such as spray paint, acrylic and printing to enhance the animalistic energy of his art. From depictions of unsettling skulls to his twisted and writhing figures, Ellis succeeds in constantly pushing the boundaries of his art. We love how Ellis takes familiar pop culture icons like Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk and transforms them into tormented figures inspired by the work of Francis Bacon. 

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

There's a Spider on my Bacon by Lee Ellis - £1,500

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

 

Haus of Lucy - View Collection

Haus of Lucy, formerly known as Lucy Bryant, creates witty artworks that play on contemporary culture. Appropriating classical imagery such as Eighteenth Century landscapes, Bryant leaves her own mark on these unassuming scenes through the form of Primark bags, Amazon trucks and Beats headphones.

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Wireless - A3 by Haus of Lucy - £150

 

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Alluding to current social, political and cultural events and iconography in her art, Bryant creates a discord that is both intriguing and unsettling. The unexpected anachronisms that deftly find their way into Bryant’s work results in artworks that are saturated in humour. We love Bryant’s disruption of the ordinary, juxtaposing the past and the present to create unnerving artworks.

 

Damien Hirst - View Collection

Damien Hirst is a contemporary British artist who has forged a name for himself in the history books. Tackling broad subjects such as the relationships between art, beauty, science, life, and death, Hirst is unafraid to dive head first into deep and meaningful themes. The artist is unafraid to explore the uncertainties of the human experience in his art, where he places particular focus on the inevitability of death.

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

For The Love of God, 2009 by Damien Hirst - £7440

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Hirst has said about his practice: “Art’s about life and it can’t really be about anything else … there isn’t anything else.” His vulnerability and curiosity with the human condition inevitably shines in his artwork, from his famous skulls to these iconic multicoloured spots.

 

Yayoi Kusama - View Collection

The world famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is celebrated for her psychedelic colours, repetitive dots and iconic pumpkin sculptures. Acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, Kusama is the avant-garde voice of a generation. 

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Red Pumpkin Naoshima (Large) by Yayoi Kusama - £1,240

The Haunting Art of Yayoi Kusama, Magnus Gjoen and Damien Hirst | Image

Kusama’s pumpkins are a particularly popular motif of Kusama’s. Taking the iconic shape associated with Halloween, the artist puts her own twist on them with her dots. When asked why she keeps returning to this familiar form, the artist said: “I love pumpkins because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form…I have enthusiasm as if I were a child.” We love how Kusama’s boundless joy for her pumpkins perfectly summarises the childlike joy to be found in Halloween celebrations.

To discover more art inspired by the spooky nature of Halloween, explore our specially-created Halloween Collection.

Studio stock

£48

6 x 10 cm

Dreams Can Come True

55 x 56.5cm

£850

55 x 56.5cm

Masterpiece Minus Art Print by Remi Rough
Exclusive

Masterpiece Minus

42 x 29.7cm

£190

42 x 29.7cm

Love is the Drug - Pink Diamond Dust, 2020 Art Print by Ryan Callanan
Exclusive

£200

60 x 60cm

Debbie Harry Rainbow Art Print by Veebee
Exclusive
Veebee £160

£160

50 x 50cm

United Colour of London Art Print by Jayson Lilley
Exclusive

£195

31 x 24cm

Pangolin - Medium Art Print by Lisa Lloyd
Exclusive

Pangolin - Medium

40 x 40cm

£100

40 x 40cm

Not My First Rodeo (11th Edition) Art Print by Babak Ganjei
Exclusive

£135

50 x 70cm

Prince 2000 ZERO ZERO Art Print by Mike Edwards
Exclusive

£150

50 x 50cm

Rebel Rebel Art Print by R-W Studio
Exclusive

Rebel Rebel

50 x 50cm

£120

50 x 50cm

Choco POPek

15 x 12 x 6cm

£300

15 x 12 x 6cm

Pacific Grind

20.3 x 81cm

£200

20.3 x 81cm

Elvis Art Print by David Studwell
Exclusive

Elvis

50 x 50cm

£175

50 x 50cm

Gorilla - Lilac Foil

42 x 59.4cm

£195

42 x 59.4cm

MK-Ultra I

19 x 19cm

£65

19 x 19cm

Northern Scum Art Print by Katrina Russell-Adams
Exclusive

Northern Scum

29.7 x 42cm

£85

29.7 x 42cm

I Love London

22 x 17 cm

£60

22 x 17 cm

Kate Moss - Glow Art Print by VeeBee
Exclusive
VeeBee £285

Kate Moss - Glow

70 x 70 cm

£285

70 x 70 cm

£267

75 x 75cm

Humpek Purple Sculpture

12 x 6 x 12cm

£240

12 x 6 x 12cm

Fail Art Print by Babak Ganjei
Exclusive

Fail

50 x 70cm

£135

50 x 70cm

Sara Pope £150

Amped

18.3 x 18.3 x 3.2cm

£150

18.3 x 18.3 x 3.2cm

£165

45.72 x 60.96 cm

I Love Recycling

22 x 17 cm

£60

22 x 17 cm

£850

55 x 56.5cm

Ben Eine £35

£35

15 x 15cm each

R2Heart2 - Copper Art Print by RYCA
Exclusive
RYCA £150

R2Heart2 - Copper

50 x 70cm

£150

50 x 70cm

chatbot-image